SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: SWIMMING IN THE DARK BY PADDY RICHARDSON

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). Sometimes I have too many books to do a full-length review. At other times, like now, tennis elbow and a torn tendon makes too much writing/typing difficult. As such, I’ve decided to devote longer reviews to Australian authors until such time as my injury clears. 

Swimming in the Dark

A fellow book blogger confessed to me the subject matter made reading Swimming in the Dark difficult. I can see why: some of the themes may trigger unwanted responses in some readers. The blurb hints at the themes but they’re easily missed unless you ask, why would a once-promising high school student retreat from life? Here’s the blurb:

Serena Freeman, a once-promising high school student, has started to retreat from life and one night does not return home. Her sister, Lynnie Freeman, is carving out a successful career and is desperate to distance herself from her troubled past. But on hearing of Serena’s disappearance, Lynnie is forced to return to the town of Alexandra to look for her. The only link to Serena’s disappearance is Ilse Klein, a quietly dedicated English teacher who longs for her lost childhood in Germany and the sense of belonging it gave her. She lives with her mother, Gerda Klein, who is beset by a devastating depression each winter and plagued by memories of Stasi Germany. The Kleins learned long ago that there is safety in silence, can they break a lifelong habit?

Set in New Zealand and drawing on the voices of four different women – two sisters, and a mother and daughter who become linked by a terrible secret – Swimming in the Dark is a clever examination of guilt, fear, friendship and resilience. Each one lives in the shadow of fear, whether in the recent or distant past; each one carries a burden of guilt. The characters are strongly drawn, making their circumstances both believable and wrenching – as they swim from darkness to light, so too does the reader. The flashbacks to life in East Germany under Stasi rule are sobering and enlightening (particularly as I had family in that country before the wall came down and information was scarce or, later, the subject avoided). Measured writing, a compelling yet haunting story that drags the reader into the heart of the suspense, Swimming in the Dark is an excellent read that is bound to lead to further reflection about human nature, survival, the pull of the past, and when to turn a blind eye in the name of what is right. Some readers may be triggered by rape references, and I wish this to be a gentle warning, rather than a spoiler.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan (RRP $29.99). My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.

Bookish treat: As the child of German parents, my foodie heart was awakened by the mention of Lebkuchen!